My First Solitary Bees of 2013!

07th March 2013
I've really enjoyed looking for invertebrates to photograph during the winter, particularly springtails. I have though, despite that pleasure, really been waiting for the solitary bees to reappear.

One of the earliest mining bees to emerge in spring is Clarke's Mining Bee (Andrena clarkella). Depending on the weather, they can start appearing from their nests in mid-February. It's been a bit too cold and wet for that though, but as soon as we had a mild spell, I set out (March 4th) to a known local colony, to look for activity.

The nest site is at the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust's reserve at Brandon Marsh. I got there at about 11.00am. It was sunny, reasonably mild, but a bit breezy. I must admit to feeling really excited as I set off to the nest site! It's on a south-east-facing bank of bare, rather sandy soil and when I arrived there, there was nothing to be seen. I waited a while though and then thought I saw something at the top of the bank. I clambered up and found a single male. It was stationary; warming up in the weak sunshine. I took a dorsal shot and then a few focus-stacked images that I later combined using Zerene Stacker software. This is the image on the left. My first solitary bee of 2013!

The bee was rather inactive, so I decided to encourage it onto my hand. It's easier then to angle the subject for different shots and to try to photograph "diagnostic" features. Solitary bees are often quite amenable to being picked up, particularly when they haven't yet reached optimum "operating temperature". Male bees can't sting either. Female solitary bees can sting, but seldom do. Their sting is very weak, even if they do. It's obviously more risky to try this with worker/queen social bees (honeybees and bumblebees)!

Many mining bees (and other solitary bees) are difficult to differentiate into species. Males are particularly difficult. This is typical male. They are generally smaller and slimmer than females and often have a prominent "moustache" of hairs on the face. In Andrena clarkella, the facial hairs are paler than in the female.

After photographing the male, I climbed back down the bank as I could see some females too. These are largish (about 10mm) and have very characteristic colouration. There are dense black hairs on the face and abdomen, reddish/orange hairs on the thorax and yellow/orange hairs on the hind leg - both tibia and basitarsus (the pollen basket and area below). These features are all apparent in the image to the left.

I was now happy. I'd seen both male and female bees and captured some reasonable images. I shall return again soon as the colony becomes more active and serious nest building commences. I'm also keen to see the cuckoo bee Nomada leucophthalma, that parasitises the nests of Andrena clarkella. But more of that in a later post!


Photo comment By Mercedes: To find the description of your bees is heaven for me. Lately I have become a bee fanatic and with a group of people (old) we are trying to teach our communities about our solitaries. We do workshops to help with the construction of Bee Hotels. We also like to educate our community through the power of story telling with the development of a book for young people (our future leaders and environmental custodians). I would love to have few of our photos to make a great poster or put it in the book (on line), I understand that probably this have a price, can you let me know how much for 20 photos of natives in unusual places and position maybe with a bit of comments. Love your work, I sincerely enjoy it. Best regards Mercedes

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